Our Diverse Heritage: Marion’s Black History Part 11

Celebrating Black History Month in Marion County

Part 11: Closing Dunbar School after Desegregation

William Oscar Armstrong, Jr., who earned a Master of Education degree in 1942, became the second black student to receive a graduate degree from WVU. As mentioned earlier, Armstrong attended West Virginia State College and served as the principal of Dunbar High School in Fairmont for 47 years. He also was assistant principal at Miller School after integration for several years.


As Armstrong was involved in numerous civic organizations in Marion County including Fairmont State College Citizen’s Committee, he was asked to address the topic and no doubt comment on the local implementation.

Armstrong gave a speech to the Fairmont Rotary club by Armstrong not long after the ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education that desegregated American schools.  In the talk, he lauds the decision, details the problems with the “separate but equal” doctrine, and articulates his hopes for the African American teachers in Marion County after integration.  He ends the speech by saying, “I have tried to say that the U. S. Supreme Court in invalidating the separate but equal doctrine has reaffirmed the faith of America, yea, of mankind everywhere in the democratic way of life and we fervently pray that each local community affected by this decision will courageously carry out its mandate in the same democratic spirit.”

Dunbar High School last graduating class was in May 1955. Primary grades were kept there for one year and the Board of Education closed the school in 1956. The faculty members at Dunbar in the mid-1950s were outstanding, well-educated and dedicated to student success. Armstrong died in May 1970 and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery. Not all the teachers were retained in teaching positions. The wave of baby boomers in elementary school made a demand, so generally openings in the smaller outlying schools were offered to displaced teachers.

As far as the building is concerned, it was unused for several years and reopened in 1963 as the Fairmont Junior High Annex but loses its name. By 1970, Fairmont residents petitioned for the name to be reinstated. Charles Nallen Sr. was the principal. By 1984, Dunbar was the 5th and 6th grade school for the West Fairmont School District.

Some of those teachers will be featured next as well as one teacher who made a career move.

Armstrong died in 1970 and is buried with his wife in Evergreen Cemetery.


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